Authors: Asia Olanna
POP SINGER: A BWAM DARK ROMANCE
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblances to reality are entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 Asia Olanna
Cover Artist: Jesh Art
The day I had won a ticket to go see my favorite singer was the day I could’ve just about died.
“Oh my God, Latasha. I can’t believe it. I’m going to Korea!”
I was sitting in my bedroom with her; we were having a sleepover. And I had only a few moments ago received the email.
“You mean… North Korea?” Latasha said, not at all ironically.
I looked at my friend like she was one of the stupidest people on the planet. Look, I loved Latasha, but she could be the type who could not be more ridiculous when it came to other countries’ cultures. She didn’t respect them at all.
Did she even have a map? Google?
“No,” I said, having heard so much of Latasha’s nonsense before. “No, not North Korea. I’m going to
Korea. I’m going to Daegu.”
Latasha looked at me like I had just murdered her father. Her brown eyes were wide with expression, veins pumping throughout her forehead. She held a pink nail polish bottle, casually dipped the brush in and out, making the room into a funk. I had a cucumber mask on, my hair all balled up in a silk sash.
“Where is that?” she finally said. “That sounds like a sandwich place.”
Well, I guess couldn’t blame her for her ignorance. Few people had ever heard of the city before.
“It’s kind of in the middle of Korea.” I pulled out my phone, scrolling through a bunch of online data pages. You know, the usual suspects: Google, Wikipedia, and maybe a little bit of Facebook. After a while, I found a good amount of information for Latasha to scroll through. She put down the nail polish and stretched out her legs across my bed.
I looked around my room while she scanned my phone. I had just moved into the neighborhood, and here I was, winning a contest to go halfway around the world. Good thing I had only rented, not bought.
“You would be a fool to buy a house now,” dad had told me, back in my home state of Lincoln, Nebraska.
And yeah I know, Nebraska. Have you ever actually seen black people in Nebraska? Yeah, there aren’t any.
“When you move out of our house,” dad had said, “then you should think about renting. Because I know you. You’re a free spirit, and I think you’re going to go far…”
I remember him waving his hand around our two-story home near the countryside. He had said that I would go far, right?
Well, I definitely wasn’t expecting to go all the way to Korea…
“This all looks really cool,” Latasha said. “But I’m not so sure this is going to be the best thing ever. I mean, you make it sound like you’re going to move there. All for a guy?”
For the longest time, I had been trying to make my way out of the United States. I wanted a taste of the outside world so badly—to explore more than cornfields and white picket fences, more than green grass and tornadoes in the summer.
“But the tickets aren’t just to meet my favorite singer—his name is Jong-soo by the way, if you’ve forgotten. There’s going to be a dinner!” Latasha put down my phone, boredom glossing over her eyes. She picked up her nail polish again, stretching out her toes in front of her, pressing down the bulb-hairs against her feet. “The tickets are more than just a backstage pass.”
The tickets were going to be an all-expenses paid trip abroad for an entire year! Have you ever heard of such a contest before?
But I had entered.
It was a sculpting contest that worked in conjunction with an artists’ consortium.
They supported all of us who dealt in the creative world: theater, screenwriting, playwriting, creative writing,
, glassblowing… each section had its own prize, and for me…
The prize was…
“I get to live in Korea for an entire year! Meeting Jong-soo is just part of the package.”
“I really can’t believe it,” Latasha said, sounding even more bored. “If you want to go, then you should go.”
I nodded at her.
She started talking about her boyfriend—who she always broke up with, and then got back together the next week—while I thought about my new life.
Imagine: bright lights, a new language, a new culture.
A place far away, where I wouldn’t have to deal with the monotony of suburban American life.
I graduated from Nebraska State University. So much of my time had been spent in school, majoring in art history, trying to build up a name for myself.
I struggled so much to get actual employment though.
And I know, everyone probably rolls their eyes whenever they hear “art history” or whatever.
They think that people like me don’t deserve an honest job.
But when I won the contest, I felt like it was validation for all I had gone through.
That going through an art history program wasn’t just for nothing.
An actual committee of skilled artisans reviewed my work and decided that
was worthy enough to travel outside, to go someplace beyond my homeland.
And it made me feel good. It made me feel really good. Validated me and my skills completely.
I would also have the opportunity of showcasing my artwork at local museums. Places housing the most expensive pieces in all of the world.
Hang out with musicians and painters?
My work next to ancient
Can you see why I was excited?
Always being a Debbie downer Latasha said, “Do you even speak Korean? I mean, girl, if you’re going to live there, how are you going to communicate with everyone?”
“I’ve been brushing up.”
Which was a lie. I didn’t know a lick of Korean.
Honestly, winning the contest came as a complete surprise. So I hadn’t really been practicing anything at all in the ways of East Asian languages. I just didn’t have the time working at the daycare center.
I never had a break.
“You should probably go and hire yourself a tutor or something,” she said, putting away the nail polish by her side. I kind of wanted to slap her for her nonchalance, but I knew that she was just being a realist. Pragmatic. She was the type of person who—in the end, no matter how much shit there was—looked out for me. And she was right, I had to learn some of the language.
“I hear it’s easy to take up though because they have an alphabet and everything.”
“Whatever the case,” Latasha said, laying back in my bed, “I’m ultimately happy for you.”
I couldn’t be angry at her. We were different people; we didn’t share the same interests.
Latasha and I had known each other from Nebraska State. We had moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area together, in the same apartment complex, as next-door neighbors. Back then, we were seeking excitement. We wanted out.
But I knew now what a mistake moving with her had been. I should’ve followed my heart and made a plan to move from the United States the moment I wanted to.
Because where there’s a will, there’s a way.
And broken leases.
Which I now had to pay.
“Are they really going to cover everything?” Latasha said. She had majored in economics, so she was the type of person who worried constantly about finances. She was very money-minded. No wonder she worked at a bank as a manager—she didn’t even work as a teller, she just jumped to manager. “If you need any help, girl…”
“I’ll be fine. The email says that they’re going to pay for everything. I’m sure of it. They’re not going to fall through, lest they garner themselves a really bad reputation in the long run. This is the first time they’re going to run the competition, so I’m thinking that they want to continue running it, you know? Why else would they hold the competition only to go bust the next year?”
“People do all sorts of strange things,” Latasha said, closing her eyes. She had her hand on a remote control by the nightstand. She flipped through the channels on the television, eventually landing on a soap opera, one that featured a small town girl and her secret gangster lover. I had never seen anything like it before, but it was a hit show, something that had gone viral on the Internet, something that Latasha loved.
Latasha looked at me as the program went on, said again, “Girl, people do all sorts of strange things.”
I relaxed on the bed next to her, stretching out my legs. I closed my eyes, listening to the different actors on screen, talking about their horrible lives.
People do do strange things…
They do tons of strange things…
But hey, what’s life without a little bit of strange?
I smiled to myself as I drifted off to sleep, thinking about Jong-soo, and all of the fun we would have when we were together.
In my head, I had built up a fantasy man. Someone who looked immaculate in a suit and tie, who could sing so well, and who could charm anyone in a moment.
Unlike some Korean pop stars, Jong-soo had his beginnings in rock and rap. And I mean he had deep beginnings. He had started his own rock band when he was younger before transitioning into and experimenting with hip-hop and R&B and rap. He was known all around the world—except in the United States. Few people knew the Korean music industry beyond a couple of hit singles.
“You know, there’s going to be no black people when you’re over there as well.”
I looked over at Latasha. “Yeah,” I said, “yeah, I know that I’ll probably be the only one. But I’m no stranger to that.”
“If you ever get lonely over there, I’ll definitely stop by. I’ve been thinking about traveling to Spain this coming summer… or maybe even Africa… someplace like Angola or Rwanda. West Africa? There are tons of good places cropping up over there. Places that are making a lot of progress.”
It was already spring. We were both in our mid-20s. Ready to get on with our lives. Ready to go do the things we thought we never could…
And even if Latasha wasn’t exactly the perfect friend, she was pretty much my only friend at the time, a good, decent friend. The only person who listened to me and respected me… insofar as I could get respect.
Hell, let’s call her my best friend. I needed one. We both did.
“Girl,” I said, “are we going international? You could work at a Swiss bank or something, am I right? Maybe. Maybe you should.”
“I can try new things.” She turned her head to the side, smiling. “But if it gets too weird, I’m out.”
“Then let’s make a promise,” I said, facing her. “You meet me in Korea. And I’ll meet you wherever you are.”
“I’ll put in my two weeks’ notice,” Latasha said, laughing, knowingly joking and ribbing me. “I’ve just got to make myself a plan.”
Closing my eyes, I thought about standing in the middle of the day care center I was working at ready to tell all of the rude parents who had yelled at me for the past couple of months that they could suck it. I didn’t a reason to take their bullshit anymore.
“Girl,” I said, “I’m more than ready to put in my two weeks. It’s going to be more like two seconds.”